Mount Airy has many positive attributes – including its tourist destination, comparatively low cost of living, and infrastructure – but other factors, such as the lack of available housing and limited industrial sites, hold it back economically.
These are findings from the Mount Airy Economic Vision Committee, a group composed mostly of locals with diverse business and leadership backgrounds that has been researching ways to fuel growth for much of this year.
It is one of four “Visions” committees established by Mayor Ron Niland last December to advance the city in key areas such as economic development, downtown / small business growth, and others.
Chaired by city council members, the groups reported regularly on their recommendations, and on Thursday evening it was the turn of the Economic Visions Committee, led by Commissioner Jon Cawley.
The presentation, held during a meeting of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners, was moderated by committee members Will Pfitzner and Jay Lara.
“Everyone in this committee was very action-oriented,” said Pfitzner, explaining that his goal was to propose concrete steps for the city administration. He shared with those in attendance that his business background is limited to seven years of start-up experience as the owner of LazerEdge Designs, specializing in handcrafted, bespoke wood items.
Lara founded Carport Central in 2014 with his brother Albert, a very successful local company.
Other committee members include Ben Webb, Ben Cooke, Andre Nance, Chris Lumsden, Shannon MacDonald, and Martin Collins, the town’s community development director.
“Behind each of these people and their different backgrounds was the love for this community,” said Pfitzner of the discussions. “It always came back to the roots of the best for the people who live here and for the future of this city.”
Advantages and disadvantages
While identifying various benefits for Mount Airy, such as the community spirit and ongoing support programs (existing and potential businesses may not be aware of), committee members believe local economic growth is being hampered by a lack of housing and financial resources.
Limited business / employment opportunities, human resource development and the city’s presence on social media are also cited as weaknesses.
Comments during the presentation on Thursday evening indicated that these elements are usually intertwined and have an impact on the success of others.
This also includes the need for greater personnel development.
“Everywhere I go I hear: ‘I don’t have the people to fill the vacancies with us,'” Lara said of his interactions with other business people in relation to a need that was also identified in his company – “Finding qualified people”. . “
The solution is seen to be providing incentives to businesses and educational institutions, including scholarships and encouraging greater training of the workforce to improve skills.
Some companies may not know what incentives are now in place to help both them and their employees move forward based on the presentation.
Buildings, land scarce
In addition to supporting companies already based here, there are obstacles on the way to attracting new ones to the city, according to the committee, including a tight real estate portfolio.
“If I were a company or a company looking to move to Mount Airy, what would I see first?” Lara summed up a consensus question from the committee members. “Where should I relocate my employees and my office?”
The lack of available buildings and construction sites is a major problem.
With regard to city-owned industrial parks, two were discussed on Thursday evening, Westwood Industrial Park and Piedmont Triad West Corporate Park.
Although Westwood has 103 acres, “it’s just land,” Lara said.
Those interested in moving to Mount Airy face challenges with such vacant lots. “That’s one thing we can look at,” said Lara, and mentioned the sorting work to make the rooms level and to make building there less of a problem.
Piedmont Triad West, which is on the south end of town near Sheetz, has a few tiered areas vacant, but these are more suitable for small or medium-sized businesses rather than larger manufacturers, Lara said.
Having other parks “ready and available” should be a future goal for local officials, he added, acknowledging that open land is limited for both industry and housing – especially within existing city limits.
“Property was a big issue that we saw in committee.”
An incoming company, or already here, that is bringing in staff from other countries, would like to offer these employees safe and affordable housing, too, was pointed out during the presentation.
“At the moment, as a company, we actually have to buy houses here to get our people to work,” Lara said of Carport Central.
“You can’t imagine a company having to buy real estate in order to bring its employees from other states here to work or to study.”
That’s what Carport Central has in common with the Northern Regional Hospital, said Lara, who apparently learned from the presence of Lumsden, the hospital’s president and CEO, on the vision committee. The hospital will also need to buy condominiums and other houses for its incoming doctors and nurses, Lara said.
“Housing is definitely something that we as a community need to keep track of,” he said of his role in economic development.
A short-term action plan identified by the committee calls for better use of the city’s stock of industrial parks and housing and ways to address the shortage of the latter.
Standing committee proposed
The Mount Airy Economic Vision Committee believes that a definition of economic success for the city should be established and plans drawn up to achieve this by “fully” engaging the community and working with existing groups.
According to the presentation, an ultimate goal for economic success should be luck.
The members of the Vision Committee, which is temporary in nature, also believe that city officials should appoint a standing committee on economic development to support this mission.
Commissioner Cawley said later in the session that he was “very encouraged” by the work of the Vision group and that he hopes the city council will set up the aforementioned standing committee.